Sometimes it takes 3000 tries; and sometimes you get it right from the start.
Not this particular game necessarily, but the style in general. Yeah, the metroidvania has to be the ultimate in winning video game formulas. Even an average one is usually above average. It’s almost not fair.
So in some ways this game is less interesting for itself than as a case study in the virtues of its genre; because on its own merits it’s a little lacking.
I mean, the story? It’s not really there at all. You play as some faceless guy–or is it a girl? I don’t even know–running around stabbing everything for reasons I was never clear about. There are plenty of different zones, though none of them very memorable. A zillion boss fights, none especially challenging or creative. (Well, that $%#&*$! guy who filled up the room with bouncing energy balls was pretty good at killing me, I’ll give him that.) A whole arsenal of spells and weapons of which I only ever used a handful. Upgrade systems that didn’t add much flavor. Too many spikes, not enough depth to the combat or progression; and then there was one point where I ended up having to grind out gold for so long it was like being back in a 90’s RPG.
But hey, it’s still a metroidvania, right? Somehow they get away with it.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not all bad.
It does look pretty great if you can appreciate the cartoonish style. Monsters are big and chunky and nicely animated; and while the level design may be uninspired in terms of layout, at least there are plenty of pretty colors everywhere. And of course lots and lots of juicy areas on the map for you to turn blue.
So, you know, decent enough if unspectacular; yet beneath all of that lie the reinforced concrete pillars of the metroidvania, reaching down to the foundations of the earth; the epitome of the video game house built on solid rock.
What is it that makes these things so great?
It reminds me of this friend of mine who always says to me to me, “when you’re telling a story, give the punchline first so they know where it’s all going.”
In a way these games lend themselves naturally to that sort of structure. Early on you encounter obstacle after obstacle that you’re not quite prepared to overcome. Platforms just barely out of reach. Mysterious doors you can’t unlock, usually with something tantalizing on the other side. Walls of ice, pools of water, clouds of poison or fields of electricity you can’t traverse until you finally get that key item.
They fix concrete goals like this in your mind and then let you discover ways to overcome them. It’s just the perfect blend of exploration, combat, movement and environmental puzzle solving.
Even lately, when hybrids like Blasphemous or Horace have moved in and stolen a bit of the thunder from purer games like Axiom Verge, this unshakable structure of the genre always seems to win out. I could sit here all day and pick at this game’s faults, but who am I kidding? I’m still gonna enjoy it.
Nobody tell em this, but they could release Duels 1 through 2999, and–God help me–I’d probably play those, too.